Director: Josie Rourke
“I love you with so much of my heart that none is left to protest.”
Beatrice in Much Ado about Nothing by William Shakespeare
After seeing a performance of Much Ado about Nothing, I felt I needed to see another version of it right away, to see if the play really was as funny as I thought it was. There was one version that I had been looking forward to watching; a filmed version of Much Ado about Nothing that was performed in the Wyndham’s Theatre in 2011. It was mostly because it had David Tennant and Catherine Tate in the lead roles, and I knew them both from Doctor Who (well, David from other movies as well). I was able to find a copy that I could buy online, and I went ahead and took the plunge.
For those of you who are unfamiliar with the plot, I will give you a summary. A wealthy man named Leanato, has a daughter as an heir (Hero) and is the guardian of his niece (Beatrice). After returning from a war/skirmish the Prince (Don Pedro), his bastard brother (Don John, the man Pedro had been fighting), and his men stop by Leanato’s estate and are invited to stay for a month. In the company men is Benedick, a man in “a merry war of wits” with Beatrice. The two of them take every opportunity to try and outwit the other, both professing a desire to never fall in love or marry. They are the main source of comedy. Also in the Prince’s company is Claudio, a man who has shown a lot of bravery in the fighting. He becomes instantly enamored with Hero when they meet. The Prince decides it is a good match and tries to help by wooing Hero for Claudio. Don John tries to sabotage this, but is unsuccessful. Don John then decides to try and stop the marriage by calling Hero’s virginity into question.
At the same time, the Prince, with help, decides to try and cause Beatrice and Benedick to fall in love with each other, mostly relying on eavesdropping and staged conversations. However, Don John’s nefarious plan works, and at the altar, Claudio and the Prince publicly shame Hero and storm off. Trying to buy time to figure out what has happened, the friar suggests that they pretended Hero has died and let time try to unravel what happened. Benedick stays with Leanato’s family, and acts with the family against his friends because of his love for Beatrice. Beatrice and Benedick have an amusing revelation of feelings, but Beatrice demands that Benedick does not love her if he will not challenge Claudio to a duel over Hero’s honor. The Prince and Claudio show only a little remorse that Hero has died, as they still believe they are correct, even after almost fighting with Leanato. They are surprised when Benedick is stoic around them and not his usual jovial self, and are shocked when he challenges Claudio to a duel and turns in his request to leave the Prince’s company/army. At the same time the comically, bumbling neighborhood watch have gotten a confession from the man who helped to frame Hero, and the whole plan comes to light. Claudio and the Prince beg Leanato to decide their punishment for their part. Leanato decrees that they are to tell the World that Hero was pure. He also decrees that he has a “niece” who is just like Hero, and Claudio must marry her the next day. At the wedding it is reveled that the “niece” is actually Hero, and she had hidden until the truth was revealed. Surprising almost everyone, including themselves, Benedick and Beatrice also marry (after some of their bad sonnets to each other are found and presented). And then everyone dances (honestly that is how it ends!)
This movie helped show me that regardless of the staging, Much Ado about Nothing is a very funny play. I enjoyed the movie a lot. It was a bit hard not to think of David and Catherine’s Doctor Who characters, when watching their Benedick and Beatrice, even though they are both really good actors. For me that only added to the play rather than taking away from it.
The setting for the play seems to be roughly current time, and the outfits and technology reflect that. I really liked the modern take on the costumes, especially in the masquerade scene. David’s costume in that scene really had me laughing, especially where he keeps his cigarettes!
The physical humor that the two leads add to the eavesdropping scenes was brilliant. While the words in these scenes are great, the added little bit of the physical humor was really worth it. David ends up covered in paint and wandering bemusedly around the set. Catherine ends up in a harness swinging in the air between 2 and 20 feet off the ground. The separate reactions to the “love” of the other are brilliant and so in character that it is hard not to cheer along with them.
Both Beatrice and Benedick are very happy go lucky and witty, so it is very different to see them upset in the second half of the play. Seeing Benedick’s face when he delivers his challenge to Claudio is haunting, and really portrays that his character has to choose a side, and he is disappointed in his friends. Beatrice really is crying when her cousin faints, and her rage is palpable and completely understandable.
While this is a staged version that was filmed in front of a live audience, the transitions are wonderful as are the sets. It is easy to forget that it was a play and not just a feature film. I think it helps that it appears to have been a well funded performance of the play.
I really, really enjoyed this performance, and have already watched it 3 more times. I think it might become my go to movie when I have had a bad day. I have a feeling a lot of my friends are going to have to be introduced to the Bard and this movie!
For those who wish to see this version, you can rent or buy a copy here.
If you are curious, here is one of the songs from the play that is sung by David and Catherine. I have to admit I rather like this song!
Final Verdict: Run and push small children out of the way to go and see this! Any performance of Much Ado about Nothing would be worth it, but this version will keep you laughing throughout.